Carshow Classics: Highlights From MotorClassica 2017

(first posted 10/25/2017)        Last year I missed Melbourne MotorClassica due to a family emergency, so this year was more of an ad-hoc arrangement. I joined Jim and Brad (the Waldorf and Statler of the Mercedes-Benz community here in Melbourne) as well as Chris (jet pilot and proud owner of an Australian Morris Major), and we made our way slowly through the vast array. Apologies in advance for some slightly blurred shots; I hope the content will be enough to overlook those shortcomings.

First up is a first-in-the-flesh for me. A 1971 Monteverdi 375L High Speed.

One of only 66 made apparently, but to be honest the information I’ve been able to gather on these is sparse and contradictory (plus my shot of the information card is too blurred to read) so I’ll just wing it.

Peter Monteverdi was a Swiss racecar builder and Ferrari importer. The Commendatore pulled his franchise after Monteverdi refused to prepay for 100 cars, and this marque was the result.

The story is jumbled; he asked Frua to shape the first models then shifted production to Carrozzeria Fissore – who I believe created the shape for this 2+2 from the shorter Frua-based predecessors.

This has been one of my dream cars since forever. Dinky made a toy one in cherry red which might be where I first saw it, although I never had the privilege of owning even that prestigious small-scale version.

The car’s shape can be a bit awkward in the detailing, but overall it has to be one of the most handsome cars of this configuration. Its best angle is pure profile, but I wasn’t able to get that shot here.

Under the hood is a Chrysler 440 ‘Magnum’ with a brochure-quoted output of 375 bhp (SAE). I’ll let the CCognoscenti parse this out. This RHD-from-new example has been in Australia since 1972.

Stunning to finally meet one, but not the car of the show for me.

The 1969 Holden Hurricane.

Probably the first serious attempt at a concept car in Australian. I believe it was styled by a US team, but the work was done here in a super-secret area closed off from the rest of the GM-H staff.

It housed the 253 cu in V8 – Holden’s first Australian-designed V8 which was closely followed by the closely related 308 version. The Hurricane was apparently built to demonstrate Holden’s capability in the aerospace field, but to be honest I think it was more a proudly parochial showcase for the introduction of the homegrown 253.

Sitting alongside the Hurricane is one of the great what-ifs of the Australian motoring scene – the 1970 Holden GTR-X. If there is any car mythologized within the GM-H culture, it’s this one.

Unlike the Hurricane, the fibreglass-bodied GTR-X was conceived and built for production. Its body language may be pure GM showcar, but its every detail was prepared for the street.

It was based on the six-cylinder Torana – seen here in first-gen LC guise. This Torana GTR carried the 161 or 173 cu in six-cylinder in ‘S’ form (with two-barrel Stromberg carburetors).

A hotter version called the GTR-XU1 featured the 186S six and became the front-line Holden on the track, as well as the basis for the GTR-X sports car.

The GTR-X was a homegrown styling job; Phil Zmood and Peter Nankervis carrying the honours on this shape. Those rear lights remind anyone of the Maserati’s recent(ish) boomerangs?

Overall the shape anticipates another Maserati, the 1974 Khamsin.

Production ambitions for the GTR-X were killed at the eleventh hour for a number of reasons, and this is a story that deserves more exposure on CC. If I ever find the time (hint, hint anyone else who wants to cover it).

There were three themes for this year’s MotorClassica.

Holden, during its final year of manufacturing here in Australia, was allotted a large space within the hall.

As was Ferrari. I’ve covered some of these before but I’m going to rush you past three favourites…

288 GTO

365 GTC/4

250 GT/Lusso. In truth, the most beautiful car ever in the history of everything.

But we have seen this one here before, so I am going to set it aside to let others have their day in the sun.

Like this Ferrari 195 EL. I’ve never heard of the EL designation but that’s what its display card calls it, so again I defer to the CCognoscenti for more information – perhaps a variation of the ‘Export’ label used for some of these cars at the time.

Unfortunately, the reflection completely distracts from the beauty of this shape in the only front-angle photograph I took.

Ahhh… that’s better. This 1951 example was styled by Michelotti and built by Swiss firm Ghia-Aigle. ‘195’ refers to the capacity of a single cylinder in cubic centimetres – for a V12 these engines were surprisingly small. So are the cars. This shape reminds me of another diminutive gem, the Moretti 750, both being short-cabin coupes with masterfully simple coachwork.

Close, but not car of the show yet.

The third marque featured was Lancia. This particular example of the Flaminia 4-door saloon belonged to one of Australia’s former Prime Ministers, Malcolm Fraser – who passed away not so long ago.

I met him once and had a quick conversation about his Lancias, and this encounter led to my sending him links to CC stories for summer and winter reading. I’m not sure how many he actually read but I think it’s safe to count him amongst the CCognoscenti.

Malcom Fraser was well-born, and of country stock. He no doubt developed his driving skills on the looser surfaces of our pastoral regions, and had the wherewithal to indulge in some rarified machinery. During his university days, that included a Flaminia Zagato (in orange I’m told).

As fellow Flaminia Zagato owner Marcello Mastroianni once described it, this lightweight model made between 1962 and 63 was about the closest thing you could have to a Ferrari without actually having a Ferrari.

This particular 2.5 litre example has extraordinary provenance itself. It was imported to Australia in 1969 and not registered for the next 40 years, instead being kept in dry store on blocks. In 2008 it was treated to new tyres, paint and chrome – but apart from that it is completely original with only 36,153 kms on the clock.

A wonderful entrant, but still not car of the show for me.

This is car of the show – a 1947 Lancia Aprilia Spyder Grand Sport Ghia.

The Aprilia sat around the middle of the Lancia range and was built between 1937 and 1949.

The engines were either 1352 or 1486 cc V4 engines. Yep, a production V4 way back when. Add to the mix this aerodynamic monocoque sedan shape and you can see how this marque had earned a reputation for engineering excellence.

The Ghia Spyder was shaped by Mario Boano. Given the unibody origins of its donor, it received a tubular chassis around which was wrapped in this unobtrusive but entirely captivating skin.

This is the best image I took of this car, and yet it hardly does it justice.

My lack of objectivity was compounded when I met its owner, Brian Hawke

MotorClassica is filled with literally the finest classic automobiles in the country. If you want to meet the owners, you really need to buy a VIP ticket at three times the price, and attempt to find them amongst the canapés in the roped-off sections. If they have deigned to attend at all, that is.

Brian was standing next to the car out on the floor, and he indulged me in a half an hour of the most fantastic and free-flowing conversation. He restored it for a doctor back in 1985 and it became his when the opportunity arose in 1992. He does not hold back in driving it when he can.

His joy of ownership was infectious; not the youngest of men he came across as a child sharing his best toys with all the others in the park. There was no pause in his enthusiasm as he took me through details such as the bodybuild plate, chassis framework, the hood hidden behind the seatback and even that lovely grate used for the glove compartment.

It is the first of three built in the series. As Brian understands it, this was the shape that inspired Donald Healey’s most enduring creation. I’m no fan of the Austin-Healey and, though I can see the similarities, this car is so beguilingly subtle where the A-H is a thuggish bruiser.

This isn’t the world’s most influential shape, nor the most demonstrative.

But it has lingered in my mind long after the show has packed up and all its beauties dispersed.